I mentioned in my first GM diary how I was spoiled rotten by the fact that my players are my close friends as well as excellent people and gamers. We get to have an amazing time and everyone thinks about each other’s feelings and we love and support each other.
But as anyone who’s played collaborative games of any kind can tell you, not everything is sunshine and rainbows forever. And especially in groups where you’re starting out playing with strangers, it can be a difficult to navigate social situation, after all the whole point of games is to overcome challenges or adversity and if everyone isn’t on the same page about what they’re looking for, it can quickly turn into a /rpghorrorstory.
I joked on one of our recent podcasts that I had extremely good luck with finding groups online, and while luck certainly has been a part of it, there are also a few steps I take to make sure that the space I’m in is going to be a good one for me and the people playing with me.
Above all else: Players need to feel comfortable speaking with their GM. In a perfect world, players would feel comfortable speaking with each other as well, but in many situations there just isn’t enough time in the world to truly get to know who you’re playing with before the game, and some players will have anxiety surrounding confrontation. GM’s should be a safe space where you can voice concerns or grievances about the game, they should listen and respond respectfully to the things their players say in order to facilitate a place where everyone feels comfortable playing. If you step up to GM for a game (good for you, you’ll love it!) you don’t have to like confrontation, but you have to be willing to handle the interpersonal conflicts that may arise.
That being said, try to make sure your GM is having a fun time as well! They’ve put a lot of working into creating a world you get to play in, and it should be a game for them too. Look into the story hooks they put effort into, fall in love with NPCs they create for you. I’m a huge supporter of the power fantasy fun time romp, but there’s a reason the term “murderhobo” is said negatively in the TTRPG community.
Session Zero is your best friend. It helps you set a standard for what players can expect during the game, and sets a precedent you can fall back on if things start to get crazy. Writing down the decisions you make in session zero and having them easily visible to players during the game can be a non-obtrusive way of reminding everyone what the game is going to run like.
At the very minimum, session zero should include: The GM giving players a way to discreetly contact them for concerns, PvP expectations, tone and setting expectations, and scheduling expectations. Session zero can and should include other info as well, I highly recommend just giving your game a movie style rating as an easy guideline, each table is going to be different and require the discussion of different topics. No matter how much you try to avoid it, Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n Roll will find their way into your session. Decide early how you want to handle that.